London

As If By Magic, The Shopkeeper Appeared (I Am Mr Benn’s Love Child)

Finding myself in a kind of literary limbo – waiting for news about my new book release and the next stages of a couple of other projects – I decided to decamp from sleepy Cambridge for a few days to the illustrious streets of South West London, to quell my itchy writing fingers and clear the mind in preparation for all that comes next. I have family links to the Putney area and thought that now would be a good time to investigate a couple of particular family legends originating from my Nan’s side of the family.

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My grandparents have always been a rich source of unlikely tales from way-back-when, especially my grandfather and his naval exploits. Whilst he hails from what was once the rough-and-tumble East End, decades before the fashion of creeping gentrification, my Nan came from the slightly more gentile area of Upper Richmond Road in the South West. Her father owned a large, double fronted tobacconist and sweet shop, where Mumsie remembers sitting on the huge wooden counter as a child, sucking the sugar off the bonbons before putting them back in the jar. Heath and safety regulations were presumably somewhat more slack in the 1950s than those we enjoy today, but one hopes that the young Mumsie had nothing but the best interests of customers’ dental health in mind at the time.

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Never short of quirky characters in our family, Mumsie had a cousin called Tom who at the time was famous for walking his pet chicken, Phillip, up and down Putney High Street on a piece of string. In days long before the easy availability of cameras, the only record that remains of this scintillating piece of local history is the word-of-mouth recollections of our good selves. Hoping that such a sight might have caught the interest of locals at the time, I intended to search the local history section of Putney library to see if any photographs of Tom and Phillip existed and also to track down my great grandfather’s sweetshop, which by now is likely converted or even demolished.

Mumise was very small at this time (she isn’t very big now, to be fair) and my grandparents’ memories are foggy after eighty six years, so no clear information about the location of the sweetshop is forthcoming. Despite being unable to trace this elusive emporium, nor finding any pictorial evidence of the enterprising Tom and Phillip, a happy couple of hours were spent exploring both the historical records and lively streets themselves.

Putney is perhaps the closest thing to Cambridge that you can experience in London. Here you will find the starting point of the legendary Oxford and Cambridge boat race and the banks of the Thames boast boat houses of varying grandeur, homes to all manner of top-notch rowing clubs. The bright, crisp afternoon was perfect for wandering along the river, watching a bit of rowing and hunting for another historical location – Festings Road.

For those of a certain age, a certain bowler hat-wearing children’s character by the name of Mr Benn needs no introduction. Created by David McKee, Mr Benn was a smart London gent whose address was the only slightly fictional 52 Festive Road (next door to McKee’s own address at the time of 54 Festing Road). Every day he would leave his house, dressed smartly in a black suit and bowler hat, to visit a fancy-dress shop where a mysterious shopkeeper would inexplicably appear and suggest he try on an outfit. Mr Benn would dutifully don the outfit du jour then leave through a magic door and embark upon an adventure related to his costume.

This was a successful quest and I merrily hummed the Mr Benn theme tune and jauntily announced the infamous catchphrase of ‘As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared!’ with the kind of gusto you can no doubt imagine. So pleased was I with my own adventure, that I had to go to a nearby public house to raise a glass to the fellow who served as an early influence of my love of bowler hats. Sharing details of my endeavours of social media, as one does in this day and age, I was delighted to receive a tweet from Mr Benn himself! His Twitter feed suggests that he spends less time in costume shops these days, preferring to visit classic car shows, but the similarities between our profile pictures leads me to believe that I might be his love child.

Mumsie has some explaining to do, I suspect.

More bowler hat adventures!

First Lady Of The Keys – Amazon UK   Amazon US

The Vanishing Lord – Amazon UK   Amazon US

Do You Remember The First Time?

I consider myself a woman of the world and have been fortunate to have led an interesting (at times far too interesting, quite frankly) life thus far, thereby finding myself in all manner of unusual and unique predicaments. There is little that shocks or surprises me these days, but it seems that there is always the opportunity to try something new. During my galavanting last week, I experienced several things for the very first time…

Ate a macaroon

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For years I have gazed through the windows of high end patisseries at the rows upon rows of these delicate, beautiful darlings. But that little voice in my head always told me – No, Lucy, these are not for you. You are more of a cream horn kind of girl. But finally, the fates aligned and I found myself in the possession of a clutch of macaroons, arriving directly from France, I might add. The brown-ish ones taste of almond and the green ones taste of green. They are really nice.

Travelled by Uber

Despite spending a lot of time nipping around our glorious captial city, I have never thought to summon the services of this often controversial company. I am rather fond of the Tube. But after dinner with some very generous hosts on the Friday night, Uber seemed far more sensible than trying to wobble along on the Underground. Unless Uber kiss and make up with the Mayor of London, this could be my one and only experience.

Been serenaded by a musical saw

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I had never even heard of a musical saw, much less been serenaded by one. It is a curious instrument, in that it is actually a saw with teeth and everything, but is constructed in such a way that it can be played with a bow. The sound it produces has a haunting, practical beauty about it, but is probably best limited to musical endeavours such as the Doctor Who and Star Trek theme tunes. This particular performance was enjoyed by my good self and a very bemused American journalist from the New York Times.

Made a pilgrimage

I had cause to frequent the charming borough of Hammersmith in West London and felt compelled to pay a special visit to the memorial bench of one of my great heroes, the incomparable Rik Mayall. I have no religious leanings and am certainly not the sentimental type, but I grew up with the works of this outstanding gentleman and cried for days when he died in 2014. I had always hoped that Rik would play me in a film about my life, but seeing as how he is a man and now dead, I feel this now seems unlikely.

Went Geocaching

A marvellous outdoor pastime, this. It is like a modern treasure hunt, where one uses GPS to find things hidden by people with a fertile imagination and a lot of time on their hands. After about half an hour of romping around the Derbyshire countryside I became a world class geocacher, much to the consternation my companions, who didn’t get a look in at finding anything for the rest of the afternoon. The good thing about geocaching is that it fits nicely around rural pub crawls and is enjoyable regardless of the degree of sobriety.

And one near miss… almost went to Nando’s

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We almost went to Nando’s, but at the last minute decided to get pizza instead. I am told Nando’s is like a posh KFC, whatever that might mean. However, its deep-fried delights remain mysterious and esoteric to me still. I realise that this picture bears little relation to the subject matter, but it’s a nice picture and ducks are almost chickens, after all.

 

More world firsts at Old College!

First Lady Of The Keys

Amazon UK     Amazon US

The Vanishing Lord

Amazon UK     Amazon US

The Man Who Would Be Jack

Here at Old College there is little we love more than a bit of grisly murder. Being educated types, we are partial to a bit of history, too, not to mention legend and mystery. With that in mind, there can surely be no finer narrative than that of Jack the Ripper, a much-debated riddle and quite possibly the most famous whodunnit of all time. Over the years I have read numerous books and articles about this most enigmatic of murderers, all of which present compelling evidence as to Jack’s identity, but this one by David Bullock has me finally convinced…

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This is an updated edition of the 2012 book The Man Who Would Be Jack and is the culmination of 25 years of research and shines a new light on one of history’s most infamous cases.

Although it treads the well-trodden ground of the Ripper case it is in fact a unique story which focuses on an incredible search for truth, led by an Inspector and two journalists, who in 1893 set about unmasking the Ripper once and for all.

Bullock’s research into this story led to many brand-new discoveries which not only change what we know about the Ripper case but also provides the identity of the number one suspect, Thomas Hayne Cutbush.

Thomas Cutbush

Thomas Hayne Cutbush

Cutbush was from a middle-class family in Kennington and lived in the attic room of a house occupied by his mother and aunt. He was a strange young man who held a fascination with medicine and surgery and associated with prostitutes. Prior to the Ripper killings, Cutbush believed that he had contracted syphilis from a prostitute who he brutally assaulted. He sought help from a doctor who offered treatment, although he diagnosed that Cutbush was not in fact suffering from the ‘constitutional disease’. Cutbush, though, ignored the doctor’s advice and over-medicated which led to disfigurement.

 His family later confirmed that from this period onwards Cutbush’s personality changed. He gave up work and began spending his days reading medical books and his nights walking the streets of London, returning in the early hours with his ‘face twisted’ and covered in mud and blood. When his attic room was later searched by police officers, bloodstained clothing was found hidden in his chimney and covered in turpentine in preparation to be burnt. On the bare floor boards were found crude drawings, made by Cutbush, of mutilated women resembling how the Ripper’s victims were discovered.

By 1891 Cutbush had attacked a servant in the family home and had attempted to kill his mother. He had also threatened to murder his doctor and had attacked a work colleague. Such were the concerns for the safety of his mother and aunt that they decided to turn him over to the local authorities, with Cutbush being sent to Lambeth Infirmary. Within hours he escaped and while on the run he committed knife attacks on two young females.

While at large Cutbush admitted to two strangers that the police were after him because they believed he was the Ripper. Cutbush claimed that he was a doctor (he was actually a clerk in a tea trade and a canvasser for a business directory) and in his own twisted words he stated that he had been “cutting up girls and laying them out”. He was eventually arrested on 9 March 1891 and would be sent to Broadmoor Asylum until his death in 1903. Interestingly after his arrest the Ripper murders immediately stopped.

What is remarkable about the Cutbush story is that the investigation into his involvement in the Ripper case only began after his removal to Broadmoor. His arresting officer, Inspector William Race, believed that there was more to Cutbush than originally thought and when his superiors wouldn’t take up the investigation into Cutbush being a Ripper suspect, Race turned over his evidence to The Sun newspaper.

 The press investigation that followed proved to be one of the biggest scoops of the time and found that Cutbush was a man who not only physically resembled eye witness descriptions of the Ripper but who had both the opportunity and motivation to commit the crimes. The evidence that came out of the investigation was overwhelming but it did little to change the mind of the Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police who believed that the Ripper case was closed.

The Chief Constable, in his defiance against the probing of the press as well as that of one of his own Inspectors, made a sensational admission, that Thomas Cutbush was in fact the nephew of an Executive Superintendent at Scotland Yard and a man who had actively worked on the Ripper case himself.

 The Thomas Cutbush story is simply astonishing and through this research Bullock has managed to gain a unique insight into his life and crimes as well as the damming evidence against him.

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David Bullock

Since publishing his first book Bullock has collaborated on The Little Book of Jack the Ripper published in 2014 and has become a contributor to a historical journal. He is also a regular speaker on the subject of the Ripper and historical crime and in 2013 appeared on the Channel 5 documentary Inside Broadmoor. Bullock is currently writing a new book which tells the incredible true story of an Edwardian murder mystery which was considered the greatest of its time, with twists a plenty and the most shocking of endings.

The Man Who Would Be Jack – available now CLICK HERE

Follow David on Twitter – @davidnbullock

Published by @thistlebooks